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The role of grandparents in modern families and their rights in family law

in Family Law by Heather McKinnon on

These days, grandparents are playing an increasingly important role in the lives of their grand kids, especially as baby-sitters for busy working parents.

In fact, research shows that grandparents are the major providers of informal childcare for babies and toddlers (0-2 years) when parents are working or studying.

However, in many cases grandparents are also becoming full-time, primary carers for their grandkids because the parents are unable to provide care to their own children.

Historically, child rearing (or parenting) by grandparents was a result of sickness, disability or death of the parents, but sadly these days it can be the result of addictions to alcohol or drugs that result in parents being unable to care for their own children.

So, in society’s modern families, children and grandparents often share a strong bond but under the law, where do grandparents stand?

The Family Law Act sets out who can make an application in relation to children in Australia, and under this law, grandparents can make any application that a parent can make.

When parents divorce, the law says that they have to try to maintain a meaningful relationship between the child and both parents, and there’s also acknowledgement that children have important attachments to extended family, in particular grandparents.

Unfortunately at times, parents may go through an adversarial divorce and one or both parents may try to restrict the access that their in-laws have to the children.

In cases like these, grandparents can make an application to have time with the children and the courts will consider if this is in the best interests of the child.

Sadly there are also times when parents can’t care for their children, perhaps due to alcohol and drug addiction, and grandparents need to step into the full-time carer role.

In these circumstances, they can seek orders from the Family Court to have the parental responsibility and care of the child.

Any way you look at it, grandparents are often an important part of their grandchildren’s lives and in the eyes of the law, they can make the same applications as the children’s parents.

For more information, head to our Family Law section.

Heather McKinnon
Family Law, Practice Group Leader
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